Compiled by Markson Omagor
Manchester United kicked off their Premier League campaign with a 4-0 win against Chelsea that revealed a lot about how both teams will set up for the coming season.
United were ruthless and took advantage of fundamental structural flaws in the way Chelsea were set up by Frank Lampard. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also made crucial decisions to ensure the win.
Sportsmail has put together a tactical breakdown of the game and taken a look at where it was won and lost.
Chelsea’s midfield wasteland
This game was won and lost on the transition and Frank Lampard’s structure really struggled to cope with how Manchester United countered.
Every single goal involved a counter-attack. The first, which came about because Kurt Zouma dived in on Marcus Rashford, began with the ball being won back in midfield by United and Zouma being left one-on-one with the striker.
Chelsea’s defensive structure completely fell to pieces when United charged at them through the middle.
The other three relied on Chelsea losing it high up the field and United countering through Paul Pogba, Rashford and their other players with pace.
What was of note, though, was that once United had got the ball back from Chelsea, they met very little resistance.
This was because of the way Lampard had set his team up. There was a huge gap in the middle of the park whenever Chelsea went forward and United exploited it when they won the ball back.
For example, for the second, when Rashford picked up the ball after Tammy Abraham lost it, he had three players in support against four Chelsea men.
That vast expanse of space to move into in the middle gave others time to join the attack too, allowing them to load the box when Rashford’s initial pass sent Lingard too wide. Andreas Pereira also had the time to move up the field and play in the cross.
The fourth was similar. Pogba was in his own third when he collected the ball and behind the halfway line when Martial played a one-two with him. Yet there was no resistance until he played in Daniel James, who overcame a bad first touch to score.
Lampard played a 4-2-3-1, but Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were not enough of a shield in front of the defence, especially with Cesar Azpilicueta and Emerson marauding forward.
Solskjaer’s structural shift
While United’s opener came against the run of play but swung momentum in their favour, Solskjaer’s best moment of the game came from acknowledging the momentum had turned against his side again.
Throughout the opening hour, Rashford had stayed high up the pitch and left his full-back to deal with any Chelsea attacks. Presumably, this was to allow direct balls from back to front to launch counters.
But Chelsea were on top and the defenders needed a hand. So Solskjaer asked both to drop in and defend. United switched to a 4-4-1-1 when Chelsea had the ball and kept a rigid shape. That stopped Chelsea from creating much.
It also meant that United’s counters across the length of the pitch came through players driving forward with the ball at their feet rather than passes. And it worked for three of their four goals.
If anything, it was the better approach. Solskjaer deserves credit for spotting the issue, making the defensive change and figuring out a way to use it to improve his attack.
Zouma’s defensive woes
It is easy to forget that Kurt Zouma was in a Stoke side that were relegated from the Premier League two seasons ago.
Lampard has seemingly decided that he will be in his group of three central defenders for this season, along with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger. And while he had a good season with Everton last campaign, there might be a quality gap there.
It was silly from Zouma when he gave away the penalty, although it felt as though he needed to do something to stop Rashford, but that was not the only warning sign.
In the sixth minute, he played the ball straight to an oncoming attacker when passing to Christensen, although United failed to convert from the left side of the box.
Individual errors are not a good sign at that early stage and it only got worse from there.
Quality gap might hurt Chelsea
There were good moments for Chelsea, and they do have players on the sidelines through injury, but they were undermined by a lack of individual quality at crucial points.
They have lost their most important player this summer – Eden Hazard – and sold others. A starting line-up that had two fine players in Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham reflected that.
Mount and Abraham have bags of potential but it must be remembered they were plying their trade in the Championship last season. They are probably not yet at the level of a Chelsea.
That reared its ugly head when Abraham hit the post early doors.
It would be unfair to overly hammer them at this stage. But while Chelsea looked, in the words of Graeme Souness, ‘nice and tidy’, they may not have the players this season to turn their play into something of value at the other end.
That is where individual talent comes in.
Martial has his moment
A problem United have had over the last few seasons is that managers have consistently signed players to solve areas that are not necessarily problem positions.
Anthony Martial has shone with relative consistency since he joined from Monaco. Yet in that time he has had to deal with competition for a central striking berth from Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Rashford.
The worst moment for that was probably when he had to hand his shirt number over to Ibrahimovic on the Swede’s arrival. That’s no vote of confidence from his manager.
Rashford is still there but the selection on the opening day suggests Martial will get his shot – and a proper one at that – in the No 9 role.
The Frenchman has scored 49 goals since he arrived – more than anyone else in a United shirt.
Sunday showed that he has that clinical touch, turning in a cross despite being wrong-footed. Solskjaer should now stick with him.
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